Occasionally I think about changes that could be made in our educational system, particularly in those states where in those states where there are the largest number of high school dropouts or where the statistics on how the kids score on the SAT’s are lowest. One of my ideas–and I believe I have written about it before–is Library Day, a before school holiday where all the kids are taken to the library, where they are divided into four categories: K-2; 3-5; 6-8; and 9-12. Each group will hear a lecture about the usefulness of libraries, perhaps on the Library of Alexandria in the ancient world; Libraries in the Middle Ages (and how literate people copied books); Benjamin Franklin’s “Public Library”; Thomas Jefferson’s sale of his private library to the Library of Congress; and Frederick Douglass comments on the relationship between freedom and education. At this event, the kids will go on to get library cards (those who don’t have one) and check out at least one book. They will be required to return the books they checked out to their teacher, and also a book report about at least one book. Part of their education will be geared towards learning how to write papers on the book, and perhaps in the case of the 9-12 students, a research paper about the author of the novel or book of poetry which counts as one of their books.
That said, I have one idea that I think would be wonderful in the sciences. Each kid should read and do a paper on both Origins of Species and Descent of Man by Charles Darwin for one biology class in high school. This should be a ninth grade class, and then the students should be required to have two more science classes of their choice: Biology I or II; Botany or Zoology; Chemistry I or II; or Physics I and II; or Astronomy.
I also think that for each year in Middle School, there should be a 1 semester course Study is Hard Work named by the book by William Armstrong. In the sixth grade, there should be discussions of simple rules like showing up to school or work or doctor’s appointments on time; on getting assignments in on time; on beginning work due at the end of class before the date early; etc. The children will be graded half in the combined credit due to attendance and class participation. The 6th graders will get a multiple choice test; the 7th grade will get an essay test; and the 8th grade will turn in a paper at the end of the semester about their text book: Study is Hard Work, which they will read but which the 6th and 7th graders will not.
I will skip my own ideas for the curriculum–reading Beowulf; Edwin Arlington Robinson’s The Shooting of Sam McGee; and Jack London’s Call of the Wild, for literature, for example–and go to work I hope that social workers and others do to get the kids to do that work. I believe that social work should be included in the work to help kids succeed. When somebody is placed on welfare, if they have children, their social worker should ask as one of their primary questions, “How is your child doing in school? Is there any way I can help make your child a better student?” They should have it in their files what the child’s GPA is. And if the child is not doing well in school, the social worker should ask permission to enter the child into a latchkey program. (This would also be an opportune moment to make sure the child’s physical well-being is up to par.) This latchkey program should have people dedicated to helping the children with their homework. Then the children should be required to give their work to their teacher. Both the teacher at the school and the latchkey professional should have a way in getting in touch with each other to make sure this gets done.
There should also be a program to make sure that until graduating high school, every child should be fed. There should be a year-long day care system where children eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there should be summer school programs for children K-12 with the same meals plus educational components and “playtime” for K-6 children and activities for grades 7-12.
I know these things would not be wasted. I know because I recall activities we did in class to learn things even as late as high school that–to my surprise–helped me later on. A teacher I had late in high school gave us a worksheet asking about our work skills. One question stuck in my mind: “Do you do the activities that you want to do first, that you need to do first or that you will need to do first?” I am ashamed to admit the answer was “the activities that you want to do first.” I did very poorly on that worksheet. However, years later I recalled that test in college and I said it: first I must do the activities I will need done at the end of semester. This lone tip substantially added to my study skills.
I also learned from the Jewish religion how to study. Christians believe in study but are not as meticulous teaching a person how. Jews, on the other hand, do things like the following: when one kid is excelling, they have that child lead the class; they go harder on the work load of kids that are smart but lazy than on slow plodders who work hard but are not learning as quickly.
Anyway, I believe Study is Hard Work speaks the truth, but that to succeed in this world, a person must learn study and hard work to succeed.